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While there are some questions surrounding the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team heading into the 2010-11 season, the Hilltoppers showed they might have some answers soon.
Friday night in their season debut, the Hilltoppers looked like they might pull out a big win against a very tough opponent the Pojoaque Elks. Instead, however, the Elks rallied from a late 6-pont deficit to earn a 53-51 victory.
Los Alamos opened its 2010-11 campaign Friday night at Griffith Gymnasium.
Los Alamos, which is starting off this season with the vast majority of its roster lacking any meaningful varsity experience, played tough team defense in the second half, particularly the bulk of the fourth quarter, to get the edge on Pojoaque (1-0).
Pojoaque, which has remained one of Los Alamos’ chief rivals despite the two teams playing in different classifications for better than a decade, is considered by some a legitimate contender at the Class AAA level this season, assuming it can survive what is quite possibly the toughest district in the state.
However, the Elks are under new management this season. Following the departure of Lanse Carter, the Elks’ reins were taken by Juan “Pepe” Alvarado, who has previously coached in the southern part of the state.
Alvarado, who is taking over one of the premier programs in northern New Mexico, said he was about as jumpy as he could be waiting for Friday’s tip-off.
“That was a relief,” Alvarado said after his team took the season-opening victory Friday. “I emphasized to the girls that we wanted to start this season on the right foot. But even before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to start this with a win. Now I can go home and enjoy a sandwich.”
Both teams were clearly trying to adjust to their systems Friday and both were clearly playing their first game of the season.
Los Alamos came out slowly in the first half, struggling to get its offense into full swing and turning the ball over six times in the first quarter. Despite its struggles, however, its defense was keeping the fleet-footed Pojoaque offense in check fairly well.
The defense hunkered down after the break, however. In the second half, Pojoaque, which has been characterized by its wide-open, run-and-gun attack, was largely neutralized.
Instead, the Elks were forced to run several isolation plays with their guards trying to cut through a Hilltopper defense that was well entrenched in the paint.
While Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said she was disappointed with the loss, she couldn’t fault the effort, particularly of her younger players.
“What I love was that everyone got into the scoring column except Erin Kirk, and she contributed in other ways,” Logan said. “Our No. 1 goal is to have the best defense in the district, have 10 steals and 10 forced turnovers every game. That was the goal the girls set for themselves. The girls did a fantastic job.”
In the first half, Los Alamos’ most seasoned returner, Tina Radosevich, kept the team in the game. Radosevich knocked in seven of her nine first half points in the second quarter, points that ended up keeping Los Alamos within striking distance after Pojoaque had spent much of the quarter controlling the offensive boards.
In the second half, McKenzie Logan started to find her rhythm, hitting a 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining to give Los Alamos a 34-31 lead, its biggest of the game at that point.
The Hilltopper defense, meanwhile, held the Elks without a field goal for approximately nine minutes in the third and fourth quarters while the Hilltoppers opened up a 50-44 edge, the biggest enjoyed by either squad Friday. Radosevich slashed to the basket off an inbound play to give Los Alamos a 6-point cushion with 3:06 remaining in the contest.
But with 1:10 remaining in the fourth, Pojoaque’s Amber Roybal who led her team with 13 points, buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three. Los Alamos turned the ball over twice in the final 1:10, while Liz Gomez converted a short jumper off a Pojoaque offensive rebound with just 2.5 seconds remaining, giving the Elks the victory.
Logan, one of two freshmen making their debut for Los Alamos Friday, finished with a game-high 14 points.
Radosevich had 13 while Christine Larribas and Hayley Each, the team’s other freshman, both added six.
“You look at our roster and you’d think our freshmen our weak, and they’re not,” coach Logan said. “Everyone on this team is getting a lot of playing time...we’re going to have a deep bench.”
For Pojoaque, Kiana Vigil finished with 12 points, including a pair of free throws with 22.1 seconds left to tie the score at 51.